Discovering 'clown within' and expressing this in ministry
Dressing as a ‘clown’ and doing some ‘clown’ tricks is a lot of fun! It’s often helpful in a party setting with children and families. But as true clowning, it’s only playing at ‘dress-ups’.
It is quite another thing to undertake the journey of discovering your ‘clown within’ and then giving expression to your ‘clown within’ in meaningful and appropriate ways.
Often the journey to discover ‘clown within’ begins with the activity of dressing up as a clown. It’s fun! It’s great! Often one will discover some hint of the deeply personal ‘clown within’ because of the brave step of performing some clown tricks. So just do it!
Regardless of where you are in your journey of discovering your ‘clown within’, there are some important clowning principles to observe and practice along the way. These compliments a few clown ministry principles that will help guide your ministry of sharing the Gospel.
And all these principles are also helpful when it comes to great drama, storytelling, and even in the way you engage the Bible story.
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The ideas around the notion of clowning has been somewhat hampered by the bad press some clowns have given this performance art form. Inappropriate use of costume, practical jokes, antics and sometimes even criminal activity hasn’t helped.
Similarly, gimmicky, loud, trickster clown antics and skits used purely as ‘entertainment for the kids’ on a celebration of worship platform has not helped the reputation of clown ministry.
This entire section of MIDST will help to put a positive spin on the contribution clown ministry can have in a multitude of contexts, including platform ministry.
To begin with, any performance art is often clapped as a piece of entertainment. Even if it has a teaching point, a message or an object lesson, we are pretty much conditioned to clap a clown as they complete their piece and leave the platform. There is nothing wrong with clapping. It’s how we often show appreciation or express joy. But normally we don’t clap someone who is trying to focus our attention on God and God’s mission in the world. Such presentations of the Christian message through song, sermon, Bible readings or talks may well be witty, funny, clever or emotive. And we will engage with the message and God working through the messenger but we will rarely publicly thank the messenger through clapping. If we do, fine … so by all means, clap the clown. If we don’t normally clap the messenger and are left thoughtful and responsive to God at work in and through the message and the messenger … then don’t clap the clown either.
The difficulty here is that message being delivered by the messenger is that of a clown performance being delivered by a clown. Firstly, therefore, the challenge is to change the terminology from ‘performance’ to ‘clown ministry piece’. Secondly, the clown’s challenge is to exit the ministry area with as little attention on his or her self as possible. The goal is to direct the attention and focus towards God and towards helping people to transact with God. That’s what the Bible reader does. That’s what a preacher does. This can be achieved simply by saying, “Let’s pray!” The clown or clown troupe may then leave quietly while people are transacting with God.
Clown ministry works to leave the attention not on the performance or the performers but on the Good News of God concerning The Lord, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
The way a clown looks, the way a clown acts, the way a clown responds or reacts is always:
Sometimes finding your own individual clown style or an approach is helpful:
- a storytelling clown
- a feather dusting clown
- a balloon sculpturing clown
- a juggling clown
In the early days of the journey towards discovering ‘clown within’ these are helpful fronts to explore as they help young clowns practice the clowning principles as they DO something. None of these four skills are entirely necessary at all, as fun and as entertaining as they are. By all means develop skills in any or all of these areas however, just because you put on a costume and look like a clown or just because you can juggle … these things don’t address the underlying art of clowning.
So, what is this ‘EXCeSSiVE’ dimension? This is the topic of this section.
A clown will try to respond to or react in a non-typical and/or unusual way to objects or situations.
These responses are always to be respectful and appropriate. The costume or the makeup do not give clowns, the permission to be anything less. There is a fine line between being respectfully cheeky and inappropriately rude. Clowns, especially those involved in clown ministry, do not cross this line.
These responses are often ‘childlike’. This idea tries to capture the idea that children are captured in a moment with awe and wonder at such a simple thing. Clowns who can tap into this particular ‘childlike’ quality will see things as if for the first time; will imaging amazing non-typical uses for an object; will be oblivious to all else; will play for hours with the simplest of things; will see the ‘treasure’ in the ‘worthless’. This is ‘clown within’ let loose and being given life and voice!
These responses are always respectful of personal space. Not everyone loves clowns. Absurd right? Well, no. Clowns are often loud and playful even though they are respectful and appropriate. Not all people warm to clowns straight away, especially small children. This means that clowns have to be welcomed into spaces and being aware of this will mean that a clown will always be respectful and appropriate.
A clown will keep one’s make-up and costume clean, tidy and efficient.
Regardless of the costume and makeup you choose to begin with, the appropriateness of any choice needs to be in line with Principle 2 above. In addition to this however, the ‘be nice to be near’ principle applies here. Shower, brush your teeth, pop some breath freshening mint, keep your costume clean, make sure your makeup isn’t smudged (more about that under Makeup), have neat clean cases for costume/makeup/props … be a refreshing presence!
Depending on how you work as a clown, many contexts of clown ministry require you to multi-task. You may have other roles you need to come from or get to. Clowns in this context need to be able to put on costume and makeup efficiently. Not many clowns in clown ministry have been set aside to be in just this ministry. If you are or can be, great! If not, learn to be efficient.
When it comes to choosing costume and makeup styles, each clown will be on his or her discovery of the best style that is just-right for his or her ‘clown within’. There are four main clown types. Variations and combinations of these types exist and express the individuality each ‘clown within’. It’s fun to try on new ideas and styles while you discover ‘clown within’. Sometimes the little things you are drawn too in a search of the internet or books will inspire a part of your make up and costume that will be just-right for you. Clicking on the following links with your safe-search mode on shouldn’t be a problem. Read some of the internet articles. Wikipedia is normally a good reference. See what gels with you regarding makeup and costume style. But don’t take too long. Just start with anything you have at hand or can glean from an Op Shop for now.
The four clown types are:
- Google: White face clown … or Pinterest: Clowns: White face
- Google: https://www.google.com.au/search?client=safari&rls=en&dcr=0&ei=tOWqWq_mGIK80gSei4noBQ&q=auguste+clown&oq=white+face+clown&gs_l=psy-ab.1.1.0i71k1l188.8.131.52.9407184.108.40.206.0.0.0.0.0..0.0….0…1c..64.psy-ab..0.0.0….0.Tq_mtWpupYQ … or Pinterest: Clowns: Auguste
- Google: Tramp clown … or Pinterest: Clowns: Tramp (warning: ignore ‘Trump’ ambiguations.
- Google: Character clown (warning: ignore evil interpretations, think ‘Raggedy Ann’ or Disney interpretations etc. … Pinterest: not helpful!
A clown will ‘face’ The Cross even though one may be facing the gathering of people.
It’s a heart and mind attitude … it’s about conveying a message rather than seeking the applause. This idea is explored briefly above and is the subject of more discussion elsewhere.
It’s also about giving God a good name (glorifying God) in all clown ministry attempts. It’s not about giving one’s self a good name. It is true that we can say, “Thank you” in acknowledging the appreciation of others. Clown ministry is strictly a performance art but crosses a line when it becomes more about the clown or the clown troupe’s reputation and good name than about God’s reputation and good, good Name.
A clown will convey the message of the Gospel prayerfully, playfully, carefully and respectfully
Like all the performing arts in ministry, whether it be storytelling, drama, puppets or chalk art … know how to communicate God’s Truth with grace, love and passion all in the power of Holy Spirit is the ministry. To write an visual, interactive, relational, multi-generational sermon after doing all the preparation of studying the biblical texts and commentaries is hard work. A preacher who holds to this principle knows this. And that preacher can coach a clown or clown troupe to do the similar preparation for a clown ministry piece. It has to be that good! Or at least we can learn, fail, learn and grow towards this.
Beware of trite clown skits with simplistic answers to human need and suffering. Don’t go there! Empathy, pathos and SIMPLE answers are possible in clown ministry pieces.
Beware of skits with abstract and simplistic object lessons. Adults get it. Children like the colour and movement and are entertained but aren’t engaged. Do the work of connecting the abstract with the concrete as part of this style of skit. The responses to God and God’s Good News will be worth the work.
Beware clowning for clowning sake. Clowning is only a very small part of a much larger number of parts. A clown might be waring big, excessive boots, but don’t get too big for them.
And later, after you’re out of costume and if they recognise you, say, “Thank you” when someone says , “That was great!”. Learn the gentle art of taking a moment to ask why they thought that was great, what make it great for them. Be interested to ask how God may have been working through that ministry piece in their lives. Sometimes they will be saying they would just love more clown ministry pieces that are prayerfully, playfully, carefully and respectfully presenting the Gospel message instead of having to listen to just words all the time.
This needs to be demonstrated. A developing clown needs to experience the real deal.
In the beginning there were cheap, greasy face painting sticks. Slap on a few colours and off you go. A great start! Do it!
Then there was the so-much-easier-to-apply, so-much-better-looking versions of makeup that made all the difference!
Clown ministry can make an impact without being gimmicky or just purely for entertainment. Reviewing and adapting the scripts provided to your context will take some hard work. From there and with practice, even writing your own scripts will become easier once some storytelling principles are understood and applied.
Heads up! There is a world of ideas and sources of good stuff out there.
In this section you will find a list of key words to plug into your search engine. Some links will be provided but these will probably be location sensitive and you will need to do your localised searches.
There are a number of options to help get the direction right for you in this area
- A phone or coffee conversation with Phil on this topic.
- A review of your application of clown ministry in your context to affirm and encourage all the things you are doing well and suggestions for improvement where and if required.
- A presentation of an overview of clown ministry with discussion. (20 minutes or up to 1hr)
- A 1 day (minimum) workshop towards discovering ‘clown within’ and exploring clown ministry. (Best: 4 x 2hr weekly or fortnightly sessions.)